WHITEHALL ROMAN VILLA AND LANDSCAPE PROJECT

AN INFORMAL DAILY LOG
of the 2005 Excavation

by Jeremy Cooper

(...based on the Weblog sent to the Channel 4 Time Team Big Roman Dig)

The views expressed are Jeremy's own and the information is his own understanding - he has been known to get things wrong!


Day 1 of 20: Monday 27th June

About 30 people, all volunteers including some welcome new faces, turned up on a cloudless day - a bit too hot for comfort really! After introductions and a health and safety briefing (use plenty of sun cream!), most spent the day weeding the bath house and courtyard, and clearing away the straw left by the bails that had protected the site from frost since last year's dig.


Cleaning up the bath house

Ollie, possibly the world's most delicate excavator driver, was with us for today only: he shifted the spoil heap to the East of the site a few yards further eastwards, and cleared the topsoil where it had been - it's one of the unwritten rules of archaeology that wherever you put the spoil heap, you'll need to move it sooner or later! In the process Dave, our metal detectorist, found half a dozen more coins to add to our collection of several hundred.

Ollie also cleared the topsoil from the area where we expect to find the site's second round house - on the last day of the 2004 dig we found just a small stretch of the wall to the South of the main villa building.

The excavator was also used to dig a test pit in the small woods to the North of the site.


Digging the test pit in the woods

It's always been known that stones from the villa were used to build a small barn there during the 19th century, and we hoped to find some foundations - but we didn't! We did at least hit the spring line that surfaces to the North of the bath house and feeds the water system.

Jeremy Cooper


Day 2 of 20: Tuesday 28th June

Weeding. Weeding and more weeding. Weeding again. Archaeology is so glamorous! That's one of the snags about long term research sites - you have to clean them up every time you start digging again. Not a problem Time Team faces! But the entymologists (insect fans) had a field day and the site now looks a lot less like a scrappy field and more like the remains of a villa and bath house.

The wind played havoc with one of the finds gazebos, but no harm was done.

Progress was also made in laying out the surveying grid on the areas uncovered by the excavator yesterday.

Another unwritten law of archaeology (see day one for law concerning spoil heaps) is "beginners find things". Sylvia joined us for the day via the Big Dig website, did a lot of weeding and just underneath one weed found a piece of roman glass. Lucky eh?! Now that IS the glamour of archaeology.

Jeremy Cooper


Day 3 of 20: Wednesday 29th June

You'll never guess... Weeding again. But a promise that "real archaeology" will predominate tomorrow. A slightly early finish to the day to avoid huge thunderstorms moving up from the South West.

Jeremy Cooper


Day 4 of 20: Thursday 30th June

Today saw, as promised, the start of the real archaeology - and the rain held off almost all day!

Most of the walls of the villa itself have been robbed out, but our archaeologist Steve Young had a little exploratory dig the other evening and came across foundation stones underneath the general level of the robber trench.

Today one of the digging teams explored two areas of these deeper foundations and discovered an alignment a little different to the one we know and love. Further examination should help us to establish more about the internal layout of the villa, and more about the phasing of the villa's development.

Another team started to trowel back the surface along the eastern edge of the courtyard (where the spoil heap was).


Looking across the bath house to the excavation on the
eastern edge of the site

Nothing to report yet expect a few more coins: we now have 9 from that area, all 3rd or 4th century.

The last digging team started trowelling back the surface of the "new" round house.

Again, nothing much to report yet, but watch this space.

In the finds area they had a good few trays of bits and pieces to wash, sort and label, including some shards of late samian ware, an early roman pot and a George III penny (but we're not interested in that!) from the new round house.

Now we're steaming.

Jeremy Cooper


Day 5 of 20: Friday 1st July

Much the same work pattern as yesterday.

The supervisers and Site Director Steve Young took time out after lunch for a brief meeting to discuss the finer points of survey data and the recording thereof - after much technical talk it was agreed that the back of the context sheet was the answer.


They may look as though they had enjoyed lunch a little too much
- but that really wasn't the case! No alcohol on site!

Then back to a hard afternoon's slog before the site tour at 4.30, when Steve showed everyone round the newly excavated villa foundations and showed us how they give us a clue to the layout of the rooms within the villa.




The back wall of the villa is running across this photo (roughly North-South),
with an internal wall foundation running off to the top of frame (East).

We've found more white tesserae on top of the foundations to add to those we've found in previous years: these add to the likelihood that the villa's corridoor had a mosaic with a white border.

We then moved on to the "new roundhouse" area where it was just discernible that ridge and furrow was showing up in the surface - the geophys showed ridge and furrow clearly, but it was good to see it on the ground. As the roundhouse ruins are not far underground, the archaeology may have been severely disturbed by later agriculture. Next week will reveal all!

To the East of the bath house the trowelling down continued with several more coins and a brooch (fibula) being found. No clear patterns are emerging yet. When the new surface is level with the old one next to it, things may become clearer. We may even be able to account for the pile of hypaucast tiles we found next to it last year.

Altogether a very satisfactory first week, especially after the initial frustration of weeding was over!

Jeremy Cooper


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